Aston and Cote: Nonconformity

Pages 77-78

A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 13, Bampton Hundred (Part One). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1996.

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A Cote will in 1561 contained Roman Catholic formulae, (fn. 1) and recusants in the late 16th century and early 17th included the non-resident lord Thomas Horde (d. c. 1607) and members of the Allen family. (fn. 2) Elizabeth Cary (d. 1639), Viscountess Falkland, a convert to Catholicism, was living at Cote House as lessee in 1627, (fn. 3) and a daughter of Thomas Horde (d. 1715), himself staunchly anti-Catholic, was also converted, but no other papists are known. (fn. 4)

At least one Quaker was reported in 1682, (fn. 5) but from the later 17th century the most numerous dissenting body was Anabaptist. Of c. 19 listed in Bampton parish in 1682 half or more, including members of the wealthy Williams and Brickland families, came probably from Aston or Cote, (fn. 6) the distance of which from the parish church presumably contributed to the rise of Dissent, and seven nonconformists noted at Cote in 1676 may also have been Baptists. (fn. 7) Then and for long afterwards they were associated with the congregation at Longworth (formerly Berks.), which became independent c. 1656 and which the Cote meeting eventually superseded. (fn. 8) Joseph Collett (d. 1741), who reputedly made a baptistry in the garden of his father's house at Cote and as a teenager c. 1700 attracted large congregations there, became first minister of Cote and Longworth in 1703; a chapel built on land given by John Williams, apparently on the site of the later building, was registered for meetings in 1704. (fn. 9) The chapelyard was used for burials probably from the chapel's foundation, and the chapel was registered for marriages in 1839. (fn. 10) By the early 19th century ministers were supported from trusts and bequests, not all from local people, (fn. 11) and in 1780 Aston House on North Street, built by a local Baptist c. 1744 for use as a manse, was acquired outright, (fn. 12) though not all ministers lived there. (fn. 13) The house was sold in 1958, and in 1960 a new manse was built on Cote Road; that was sold in 1980, and in 1992 the minister lived in a private house. (fn. 14)

Under Joseph Stennett (minister 1742-69), one of an eminent Baptist family, and Thomas Dunscombe (1772-97), numbers increased: 19 Baptist families were reported in the parish in 1768, and under Dunscombe membership rose from 85 in 1772, of whom 15 were of the Williams family, to over 100. (fn. 15) The dereliction of Shifford chapel from 1772 to 1784 presumably contributed to the increase. (fn. 16) Members were drawn from a wide area of west Oxfordshire and north Berkshire, and despite the vicars' assertion in 1738 that many were 'mean and illiterate', both the education and social standing of early ministers, many of whom may have had private means, and the support of families such as the Williamses and, later, of gentry such as the Atkinses of Kingston Lisle (in Sparsholt, then Berks.), ensured that the congregation remained 'unusually well-to-do'. (fn. 17) In the later 18th century and the 19th the circuit was widened with the establishment of chapels at Bampton, Standlake, Ducklington, Buckland, and Faringdon, (fn. 18) and at Aston in the early 19th century services held reportedly in the barn of a Cote deacon enjoyed a 'good congregation'. (fn. 19) Houses in Aston were registered for meetings in 1820 and 1824, (fn. 20) and in 1845 a plain stone chapel in Gothic style, served from Cote and with sittings for c. 160, was built north of Aston House; a gallery was added in 1858. (fn. 21) From the late 18th century Conformists repeatedly expressed concern at the threat of Dissent, (fn. 22) though relations may not always have been hostile: Dunscombe was apparently involved with Bampton vestry and workhouse and may have acted as a trustee for the Bampton curate Thomas Middleton (d. 1782), (fn. 23) and in 1811 the Cote meeting resolved to admit paedobaptists and become a 'mixed' communion. (fn. 24)

Average morning attendance at Cote by 1850- 1 was 200 and at Aston 130, and during the pastorate of Benjamin Arthur (1856-82), responsible for a major restoration of Cote chapel, membership of the Cote meeting reached c. 195 with congregations of up to 400. (fn. 25) In 1859 Arthur introduced open-air baptism, the first of which, for 10 candidates, was attended by several hundred. (fn. 26) Thereafter the small stipend and rigours of serving a large rural circuit made it difficult to keep adequate pastors for long. (fn. 27)

During the 20th century there were some long vacancies and affairs were often managed almost entirely by the deacons, several of whom came then, as earlier, from outside the parish. By 1959 there were women deacons, despite earlier objections. Meetings were sometimes chaired by mediators from Regent's Park College, Oxford, and in the 1960s occasional help was received from New Road Baptist church in Oxford and from U.S.A.A.F. chaplains from Brize Norton. By 1906 Cote chapel had 60 resident members and 32 non-resident members, the decline being attributed in 1908 to the 'New Theology'; membership in 1935 was 52, rising to 104 in 1971 but falling to c. 85 (excluding children) by 1990. The chapel remained open in 1992. At Aston the Sunday school had 50 children in 1944, the largest figure in the circuit, and in 1971 the congregation was c. 22, but the chapel was closed in 1981 and became a private house. (fn. 28) A church hall with a capacity of c. 250, built on Cote road in Aston in 1929, was replaced in 1980 by a Baptist Fellowship Centre on the same site, and thereafter most meetings were held there. (fn. 29)

The existing Cote chapel, (fn. 30) a large single-cell building of limestone rubble with a gabled stone-slated roof and a projecting north vestry, seems to have been built by Stennett in 1756, soon after the chapelyard was enlarged; (fn. 31) a gallery was reportedly added the following year. (fn. 32) In the late 1850s all but the outer shell was rebuilt under Benjamin Arthur: the earlier double gable was replaced by a single flat-topped gable concealing the roof valley, the chapel was refloored and the vestries enlarged, new pews (including a table pew over the central baptistry) were installed and new galleries added, and a new pulpit at the west end replaced an 18th-century one on the south. (fn. 33) An organ, by Henry Jones of London, was installed in 1867. Electric light was introduced in 1948, and a major renovation was carried out in 1955, when stables adjoining the road, apparently those built in 1757, were converted to other uses; they survived in 1992. (fn. 34)

A Methodist minister from Faringdon (then Berks.) preached occasionally at Cote in the later 1850s, but complained of indifference. (fn. 35) In 1866 Primitive Methodists were meeting in a cottage in Aston or Cote, and camp meetings were held at Cote and 'near Bampton' throughout the 1860s, apparently without success. (fn. 36)


  • 1. Ibid. MS. Wills Oxon. 184, f. 16v.
  • 2. Recusant Roll 1593-4 (Cath. Rec. Soc. Ivii), 123; 1594-5 (Cath. Rec. Soc. Ixi), 71; H. E. Salter, 'Oxon. Recusants', O.A.S. Rep. (1924), 35, 37, 40, 46.
  • 3. Acts of P.C. 1627-8, 109-10; Complete Peerage, v. 239-40; cf. O.R.O., Misc. Mar. 1/22.
  • 4. P.R.O., PROB 11/551, f. 250v.; Berks. R.O., D/E1 Z5/1; Stapleton, Cath. Miss. 173.
  • 5. Bp. Fell and Nonconf. 5.
  • 6. Ibid. 5, 51; cf. O.R.O., Misc. WA 1/1, ff. 5-6v.; ibid. MS. Wills Oxon. 163/2/55.
  • 7. Compton Census, ed. Whiteman, 422.
  • 8. Regent's Park Coll., Oxf., Cote Ch. Bks. 1647-1882, 1882-1972; ibid. Longworth Ch. Bk. 1652-1708; J. Stanley, Church in the Hop Garden [c. 1936], 55 sqq.; E. A. Payne, Baptists of Berks. (1951), 31, 45, 68; H. Eden, 'Cote Baptist Church' (TS. c. 1957), 6-7: copy in C.O.S.
  • 9. Regent's Park Coll., cert. of registration 1704; Stanley, Hop Garden, 109 sqq.; B. Williams, Memorials of the Family of Williams (priv. print. 1849), 12-13, 21-2, 33-4, 36; for deeds from 1705, Baptist Union Corpn. file 1367/1. Collett was evidently non-resident in 1738: Seeker's Visit. 32.
  • 10. Monuments in chapelyd., partly listed in R.C.H.M. Inv. Nonconf. Chapels in Central Eng. ed. C. Stell (1986), 168; Giles, Hist. Bampton, 175-6; Lond. Gaz. 9 Apr. 1839, P. 763.
  • 11. P.R.O., PROB 11/1215, f. 242 and v.; O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 159/3/4; Regent's Park Coll., Cote Ch. Bk. 1647-1882, list of chars, (n.d. but after 1830); Brief Acct. of Trusts created by A. Atkins (1803): copy in Baptist Union Corpn. file 1367/3; J. Ivimey, Hist. Eng. Baptists, iv. 551-4; V.C.H. Berks, iv. 319.
  • 12. Baptist Union Corpn. files 1367/2-3, deeds 1742- 1830; cf. Stanley, Hop Garden, 146; above, intro.
  • 13. Above, Bampton and Weald, nonconf.
  • 14. Regent's Park Coll., Cote Ch. Bk. 1882-1972, s.a. 1957-61; inf. from pastor.
  • 15. O.R.O., MS. Oxf. Dioc. d 558, f. 33; Regent's Park Coll., Cote Ch. Bk. 1647-1882; cf. Stanley, Hop Garden, 120-65.
  • 16. O.R.O., MS. Oxf. Dioc. c 327, p. 134; below, Shifford, church.
  • 17. Regent's Park College, Cote Ch. Bks., passim; Stanley, Hop Garden, 117, 133-4, 186-7; Seeker's Visit. 13.
  • 18. Stanley, Hop Garden, 135-42, 171, 191, 209; Payne, Baptists of Berks. 86; above, Bampton and Weald; below, Ducklington; Standlake.
  • 19. Stanley, Hop Garden, 197; J. Hinton, Hist. Sketch of Assoc. Churches (1821), 8: copy in Bodl. 11135 e. 90 (11).
  • 20. O.R.O., MSS. Oxf. Dioc. c 644, f. 216; c 645, f. 38.
  • 21. Ch. and Chapel, 1851, no. 18; H. Eden, 'Cote Baptist Church' (TS. c. 1957), 14; datestone.
  • 22. e.g. O.R.O., MSS. Oxf. Dioc. c 327, p. 134; c 654, ff. 80-1; c 662, ff. 8-9v., 13-14.
  • 23. Ibid. MS. Wills Oxon. 142/4/15; ibid. MS. d.d. Par. Bampton b 10, ff. 59, 62; Oxf. Jnl. Synopsis, 30 Nov. 1782.
  • 24. Regent's Park Coll., Cote Ch. Bk. 1647-1882, s.a. 1811.
  • 25. Regent's Park Coll., Cote Ch. Bk. 1882-1972; Ch. and Chapel, 1851, nos. 18, 122; Oxf. Chron. 17 Sept. 1859; Stanley, Hop Garden, 204-10, 222.
  • 26. Oxf. Jnl. 11 June 1859.
  • 27. Regent's Park Coll., Cote Ch. Bk. 1882-1972, passim; Stanley, Hop Garden, 211-38; Eden, 'Cote Baptist Ch.' (TS. c. 1957), 10-12.
  • 28. Regent's Park Coll., Cote Ch. Bk. 1882-1972, passim; Baptist Union Dir. (1990-1); inf. from pastor.
  • 29. Regent's Park Coll., Cote Ch. Bk. 1882-1972, s.a. 1928-30; Eden, 'Cote Baptist Church' (TS. c. 1957), 11; inf. from pastor.
  • 30. Below, plate 13; cf. Inv. Nonconf. Chapels, ed. Stell, 167-9; Stanley, Hop Garden, facing pp. 134, 182 (conjectural), 198, 214, 230; Pevsner, Oxon. 557.
  • 31. Baptist Union Corpn. file 1367/1, endorsement on conveyance 10 Dec. 1755. A mortgage of 1739/40 cited in Inv. Nonconf. Chapels, ed. Stell, 168, relates not to the chapel but to Aston Ho.: Baptist Union Corpn. file 1367/2. The assertion in Pevsner, Oxon. 557 n. that alterations were made c. 1750 lacks evidence.
  • 32. Stanley, Hop Garden, 123.
  • 33. Inv. Nonconf. Chapels, ed. Stell, 167-8; Stanley, Hop Garden, 205-8; Oxf. Chron. 17 Sept. 1859.
  • 34. H. Eden, 'Cote Baptist Church' (TS. c. 1957), 13-14; Baptist Union Corpn. file 1367/1, endorsement on conveyance 10 Dec. 1755.
  • 35. O.R.O., P 115/J/1, 30 Oct. 1856 and passim.
  • 36. Ibid. MS. Oxf. Dioc. c 332, p. 58; Oxf. Chron. 2 June 1860, 6 June 1863; Witney Express, 19 May 1870.